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Apple defends data privacy in private Congressional meeting

Apple is apparently attempting to set lawmakers' minds at ease about potential abuse of data. Anonymous sources tell Politico that Apple executives delivered a briefing meant to "provide an overview of Apple's new offerings, demonstrate the new products and discuss how Apple sees this market developing" to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. According to an invitation, this included a section where the "chief privacy officer [would] also discuss how the company intends to secure and store consumer health data."

Politico says it's not clear whether Apple gave a similar briefing to the Senate, but it points to a letter sent to CEO Tim Cook by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) two days after the product announcement. McCaskill and Rockefeller — which also sent a letter to Home Depot about its recently discovered security breach — focused mostly on the recent leak of hundreds of celebrity nudes, many gathered through Apple's iCloud backup system. They requested a briefing specifically on iCloud security, but also referenced the launch of iCloud Drive and the implications of new products like the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, "which, among other things, enable the collection of consumer health data and encourage increased mobile commerce."

Last month, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged the FTC to create stricter privacy rules for the Fitbit and other fitness trackers. "The fact that private health data — rich enough to identify the user's gait — is being gathered by applications like FitBit and can then be sold to third-parties without the user's consent is a true privacy nightmare," he said. Fitbit countered that it did not sell user data and wanted to "work with" Schumer. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has gone more specifically after Apple's health products, requesting a meeting to discuss the privacy and security policies that would govern health data gathered by the Apple Watch.

Apple has traditionally been both less involved with and less frequently targeted by the US government than competitors like Google, which lobbies heavily and has been scrutinized for things like its Glass headset and its widely protested privacy policy changes. Nonetheless, it met with the FDA earlier this year to discuss the development of medical apps and devices, likely in preparation for the release of the Apple Watch.